Almost every time I have a conversation with John Floros, a past president of IFT, he and I end up discussing the topic of future generations of food scientists. Dr. Floros is very concerned about diminishing funds for food science research and the impact this will have on graduate students, professors, and new professionals in food science and technology. The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture reported that U.S. universities will not graduate enough individuals with food and agriculture science degrees to meet job market demand, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics now claims that job growth for agricultural and food scientists should be greater than average. The bureau predicts that the outlook for opportunities in these areas is good for the next decade—particularly for food scientists and food technologists. Nonetheless, in 2009 our labs at McCormick hired more food scientists with degrees from Asia than from the United States. There simply aren’t enough domestically trained food scientists to go around.
At the core of this shortage is lack of funding for food science research in general and particularly lack of funding for applied food science, food technology, food packaging, and food processing related research. Apparently, some limited funding has been available for specialized areas within the field: food safety, nanotechnology, health and nutrition, and other specific areas with a more basic and interdisciplinary orientation, but funding for applied food science research is virtually nonexistent. This situation has driven many of our food science departments to modify their research direction, change their faculty composition over time, and adapt to the new funding realities. As a result, many of the new faculty hires in food science departments are at the “periphery” of food science, and their students are trained accordingly.
The food industry needs more applied food scientists—trained to evaluate both food safety and nutrition yet also capable of mastering shelf life issues, equilibrium curves, and process parameters. Certainly nutritionists, chemical engineers, microbiologists, and other scientific specialists are needed, but the industry relies on food scientists to pull it all together. I don’t believe the food industry could survive without food scientists.
The IFT Higher Education Review Board has identified 44 universities offering food science and technology programs that meet the IFT undergraduate education standards for degrees in food science. IFT continues to reach out to the next generation of food scientists and technologists through the IFT Student Association (IFTSA) and the New Professionals Community.
One of this year’s priorities for IFTSA is to improve and initiate programs designed to increase involvement of undergraduate food science students. IFTSA has accomplished this by recruiting members through the “Are You a Food Geek?” campaign, introducing two new product development competitions, and converting six food science clubs into official IFTSA Food Science Chapters. With nearly 700 members, the New Professionals Community is focusing on IFT’s regional sections by helping to plan local networking and engagement opportunities for new professionals around the country.
Both IFTSA and the New Professionals Community are successful strategic outreach initiatives to attract and maintain individuals early in their food science careers. However, fulfilling our mission to advance the science of food requires more. Working with federal lawmakers to influence funding for food science research is critically imperative. You may believe that there is nothing you can do personally to influence the direction of federal funding, but here is a call to action: I urge you to personally visit or organize a regional effort to connect with an elected official to explain the value of food science from farm to fork.
It is critical that this dialogue be opened so that policy makers understand the important role the profession plays in providing safe, plentiful, and nutritious food on a global scale, and that funding for food science at the national and state levels should be of paramount importance. I suggest also that you discuss this issue on social networking platforms, and encourage your food science and technology colleagues to do the same. Support the IFT scholarship program directly by donating to the IFT Foundation. Perhaps you could even take a student to lunch and congratulate him or her for choosing a career in food science.
Looking ahead to 2020 and where our science of food will come from, I expect more academic research in basic and applied food science. A strong need has emerged for food scientists to pull it all together—to make food from the science. Let’s do what we can to keep funding for food science and technology a priority. The future of food is in the science, and the future of food science is in the funding.
by Marianne Gillette,
IFT President, 2009–2010
Vice President of Technical Competencies and
Platforms, McCormick & Co. Inc.,
Hunt Valley, Md.